Netflix Can Break Hearts, Too

"Sense8" and "The Get Down" get canceled. Fans aren't happy, but Netflix knows what it's doing.

Rick Munarriz
Rick Munarriz
Jun 6, 2017 at 9:10AM
Consumer Goods

Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has emerged as a sanctuary for canceled cult favorites. The leading streaming television service has breathed new life into Arrested Development, The Killing, and Longmire, long after their original networks cut them. Gilmore Girls and Full House have received swan-song seasons on Netflix, too. If there's a show that was nixed before its time, there's a fair chance there's an online petition or wishful-thinking post on social media begging Netflix to throw out a lifeline.

However, we're now learning that Netflix's programming decisions can cut both ways. It announced last week that it won't renew Sense8. A few days earlier, it revealed that it will cancel The Get Down after just its initial two-part first season. Whatever comes up has to come down.

The cast of "Sense8" on the set of the show.

The cast of Sense8 may as well toast to a two-season run. Image source: Netflix.

Show of force

There was plenty of hype for Sense8 when it arrived. The sci-fi series was the handiwork of the Wachowskis of The Matrix trilogy fame, along with Babylon 5 creator and Thor director J. Michael Straczynski. A neat twist to the show was that it featured an international cast as the eight strangers who realize that they're connected, a big selling point for the show as Netflix was expanding into foreign markets. 

The Get Down was a serialized musical drama about the rise of hip-hop and disco in South Bronx during the 1970s. It also had its fair share of star power, but Netflix cut the cord after its first 11 episodes. 

Fans of both shows aren't happy about the cancellations, and they've turned to social media to drum up support for either the return of the shows or at least a finale or movie that ties up the loose ends. 

It isn't fun to see Netflix go from hero to killjoy, but it was inevitable. The moment Netflix got into bankrolling original shows -- starting with Lilyhammer five years ago -- it was just a matter of time before titles that weren't cutting it would get nixed. No one raised much of a stink when Lilyhammer and Hemlock Grove were axed, but back-to-back weeks of cancellations of shows with cult followings will raise some eyebrows.

Netflix knows what it's doing, even if fans of Sense8 and The Get Down may not see it that way. It has the viewership data that fans of the canceled shows don't have. Netflix recently expanded its movie deal with Adam Sander because it has the data. It knows that its members have enjoyed more than 500 million hours of earlier Sandler movies on its platform over the past two years. Netflix knows how many people are watching its shows and, perhaps more importantly, how far viewers got before moving on to something else.

Netflix is doing things right. It recently topped 100 million subscribers worldwide, tacking on another 19 million net additions in 2016 alone. It's going to continue ramping up spending on new shows, but with a mandate to take chances, even its unparalleled access to viewing-habits data isn't going to save it from making bad calls. Netflix is successful because it's not afraid to fail, and failing is just a part of the programming process.